LAKEWOOD RANCH - Sometimes the other team is simply better. It's a tough thing to admit for competitors who spend all season trying to convince themselves they can't be beaten if they play their best.
Sometimes losses can be attributed to luck or lack of effort or a bad gameplan. But on the rare occasion, teams have to concede the alternative.
The Lakewood Ranch High girls soccer team lost to a better team on Tuesday in the Class 5A regional semifinals when visiting Tarpon Springs East Lake defeated the Mustangs 3-0.
"I'm not gonna pull any punches," said Lakewood Ranch coach Guy Virgilio. "I know the girls were trying hard, but we could not match their speed at midfield. They did a good job moving the ball around, and we couldn't seem to get caught up with it."
One of the midfielders, senior Alyshia Currey, played her final high school game Tuesday.
"We got down with that (first) goal, and we put our heads down, and it went downhill from there," Currey said. "We weren't winning the 50-50 balls, and every time we pressured, we'd pressure too hard (to East Lake's advantage)."
Leah Fischer scored two first-half goals, and the Eagles' defense controlled the midfield while clamping down on the Mustangs' top player Lindsay Thompson.
It was a formula for success that eluded East Lake last year, when in the same round of the playoffs, Lakewood Ranch (17-6-2) defeated the Eagles in a penalty kick shootout to advance to the regional finals.
East Lake coach Raleigh Daves showed his girls the film of that game on Friday, hoping to refresh their memory of the tough loss.
"They wanted this pretty bad," Daves said. "We lost two starting seniors from last year's team, so almost everybody was back. That was a real good motivator there. Our ultimate goal is to go to state, so this was another step we had to take."
Daves' strategy was for the Eagles (18-7-0) to use their advantage in the midfield by spreading them out, sucking the Mustangs defense in before working the ball outside.
"From what we saw, their defenders sat back a lot," said Daves, whose team's other goal came from Tara Petzoldt 7 minutes into the second half. "We knew we had speed where with if they sat back on us, we had speed outside with our outside mids, and we could get the ball out there."
The strategy at midfield also worked to stop Thompson, who usually received the ball around the near line and had to run long stretches to break free or attempt shots far away from the net.
Fisher's second goal came moments before halftime and forced Virgilio to tweak his lineup, with little success.
"Those girls were fast," Virgilio said. "They literally took us out of our game."
One of his moves was to take Alyssa Sherman off defense and place her in the midfield. But Alyssa Sherman, a sophomore, acknowledged by then it was just experimentation.
"None of us really ever gave up," Sherman said. "We wanted to keep going. At halftime we were thinking we were down before against Charlotte. We tried. We gave our all."